Nine measures and a range of other actions have been recommended for the beef sector to cut its emissions by the Food Vision beef and sheep group.
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has received the group’s final report from the chair Professor Thia Hennessy.
The report does not have the backing of the farm organisations and the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) and Macra have all reserved their position on the report, while the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INFHA) has walked away from the group.
As previously reported, two suckler cow reduction schemes are recommended in the report: an extensification scheme and a diversification scheme.
The diversification scheme would see farmers completely reduce suckler cows from their farms, while the other scheme would see them partially reduce numbers for contracted periods of time.
The report notes that securing the level of public funding for the schemes is a challenge and it does not contain figures as to how much these schemes could potentially cost.
The group has recommended increasing organic beef production to 180,000ha by 2027. This measure would reduce fertiliser use and funding is already in place for this action through the next CAP.
Earlier slaughter and calving
The age at slaughter should be reduced by between 2.7 to 3.9 months from the 2018 average of 26 months to 22 to 23 months on average by 2030.
This measure is also contained in the climate action plan 2021. It is recommended to focus on improving lifetime animal live weight performance in order to achieve this target.
Another measure is to reduce the age at first calving of suckler beef cows by up to 3.8 months to 24 months.
The group has made a number of recommendations on fertiliser. It has said that 90% of CAN should be replaced with protected urea by the end of 2025 for grass-based beef systems.
It also said that chemical nitrogen use in the beef sector should be cut by between 27% and 30% by 2030, with an interim target of 22% to 25% by 2025.
In relation to methane, it said Government should develop methane mitigating breeding strategies in the form of a carbon sub-index, which has already been announced, and through building efficiency traits.
The group also recommended the development of methane-mitigating feed technologies and that research in emerging feed additives and feeding methods must be accelerated.
Other measures in the report include developing a package of supports to pay for the implementation of the measures recommended in the report, establishing ways of measuring and monitoring greenhouse gas emissions and removals at individual farm level and commissioning a study on a carbon farming framework.
It also recommends encouraging clover adoption and multi-species swards, increasing the adoption of low-emission slurry spreading and developing enhanced integration between the dairy and beef sectors.
The report acknowledges that the combined the Food Vision dairy and beef groups have produced reports “which propose measures for the dairy and beef sectors which can potentially deliver 4.28m tonnes of CO2 equivalent without a reduction in animal numbers”.
Minister McConalogue said that he understands that the measures listed have not been agreed by all members of the group and that it is understandable given that there are significant economic costs, particularly at farm level, attached to implementing some of these measures.
“However, it is key that first we have a pathway to reducing emissions and know what measures can contribute to that. This is what I asked Professor Hennessy to provide me with, and she has done an excellent, professional job in providing that and still reflecting the views and wider concerns of the group,” he said.
The Minister said he will study the report carefully before deciding on next steps.
“My ultimate aim is to futureproof our beef sector for the benefit of our industry, the environment and our farm families who are the backbone of the sector and rural communities,” he said.
Prof Hennessy said that despite the challenges of this process, members of the group have engaged in constructive debate and demonstrated their commitment to the common goal of identifying measures which can reduce emissions from the beef sector while also protecting the viability of the farm families engaged in beef production.
“Stakeholders have expressed concerns about the economic impact of some of the measures and therefore some stakeholders do not support the report until there is a commitment for state funding,” she said.